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Reviews

Tape Deck Heart

Simon Jones

RFrankTurner.jpgFrank Turner
Xtra Mile Recordings

You used to know where you were with punky-rootsy boys with guitars. From Billy Bragg through Bob Marley and all the way back to Woody Guthrie they'd be pointing out injustice, telling you whose fault it was, and making it clear which side you needed to be on. 'And the best of all this bad bunch / Are shouting to be heard / Above the sound of ideologies clashing.' But Frank Turner was not born into dust bowl depression or the civil rights movement or even a bi-partisan British politics. Frank Turner was born, musically at least, into a world where self-expression had become the ultimate political virtue; where the only real credo was a vague kind of anti-authoritarianism.

Sure, he played the old game for a while. 'Thatcher Fucked the Kids', a song he is now hugely embarrassed by, did what it said on the CD cover. He always sounded - whether on his own acoustic guitar or as part of raucous punk band Million Dead - like he was making a singer-songwriter's point. And he was, it just wasn't what those waiting for music's next prophet were wanting to be told. After politics, after love, 'The only thing that's left to do / Is get another round in at the bar.'

Tape Deck Heart is even more post-politics, post-love than that. Amy, who 'should be more to me by now than just heartbreak in a short skirt' ('Tell Tale Signs') is gone because our Frank, in one day of 'Plain Sailing Weather' 'let slip my guard, let go of the rudder / Now we're drifting in the current away from one another.' It's sad, even well-drawn in his straightforward ('Cowboy Chord') kind of way, but we've been here before on Springsteen's Tunnel of Love or Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. What's perhaps new, perhaps 21st-century, is the nature of Turner's self-exposure. Amy reminds him of the self-harming scars he made 'With a disassembled disposable razor I stole from my Dad' and on 'Tattoos' his include 'black Xs from when I was straight edge' - all signs on his body of an intense youth he feels glad to have escaped.

This escape, though, feels transitory. 'Four Simple Words' begins with instructions for the listener about singing along at one of Turner's famed shared-experience gigs. The four words are 'I want to dance' and, well, who doesn't, but you can't keep it up forever. 'On blood sweat and vinyl we have a built ourselves a house' he goes on, which is almost as good as any biblical rock foundation in my book, but 'Forget about the bitching and remember that you're blessed' sounds hollow when he's just berated 'lacklustre scenesters from Shoreditch' who 'don't really mean it'.

Only on 'Recovery' does he admit that if 'broken people can get better if they really want to' then 'It's a long way back to the light.' It's worth a listen, this record, but I'm afraid in the end he's right.

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